William Pannapacker has been dropping brilliant and harsh knowledge on the academy for quite some time now. My favorite part of this latest essay, which has generated quite the debate, was his conclusion:

“In order to reform higher education, many of us will have to leave it, perhaps temporarily, but with the conviction that the fields of human activity and values we care about—history, literature, philosophy, languages, religion, and the arts—will be more likely to flourish outside of academe than in it. As more and more people are learning, universities do not have a monopoly on the “life of the mind.”"

The academy is in trouble because its business model no longer works. Academics, particularly in the humanities, don’t like to talk or hear about the failed business model because they have invested in a separation of church and state, by which caring about business undermines their commitment to their discipline–even when the business at hand is their own economic exploitation and that of their students. Those of us who dare to talk about business models are maligned as “pro-business”–harsh words, Stephen Downes!

My hope for the future of the humanities rests on the bravery of those like Pannapacker who can get up and say “I care about the life of the mind AND I care about the business model that makes it possible.” The humanities are not flourishing within the old economic structures of the academy–they are increasingly marginalized and deprived of resources. We either create new structures to shelter the humanities and humanists, or we let them wither. Ignoring or disdaining the economic side of the matter is not an option.

One Response to “Humanities Grad School and its Discontents”

  1. Peter Hanley says:

    “The academy is in trouble because its business model no longer works.”

    The academy is in trouble because we have decided it is a business. This is the error. Education is too expensive to be profitable, it makes much better business sense when viewed as a loss we can’t afford to not take.

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